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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal


Back in October, Jonathan posted about The Year of Billy Miller and other beginning chapter books, but we haven’t gone back to look at more of these.   What are the other standouts this year…and here I’m casting a very wide net…among those books for beginning readers, from, say the PENNY AND HER MARBLE crowd to FLORA & ULYSSES? I.e., the often-overlooked age range for Newbery.

Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine series gets perennial mention on our blog, though we don’t always post on the latest one.  In fact, I’d given myself a short hiatus from the series, but last week read CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP, which Mark Flowers played against BILLY MILLER.   The voice and style here are so strong the narrative hooks you immediately, and the pacing of the solid plot, and rhythm of humor interlaced with Clementine’s small shifts in character development, don’t let you go.   This combo feels to me perfectly suited to its audience, presenting plot and character narrative development at a scale and in a context that beginning readers can identify with.

I also had a blast with THE ADVENTURES OF A SOUTH POLE PIG by Chris Kurtz.  At 278 pages, this is for a more secure reader than those for CLEMENTINE, but with a small trim size, and plenty of white space and illustrations, it’s suited to the same attitude.   There is no real-life context here: Flora, a pig, is included in a trip to the South Pole for her bacon-making potential, but instead saves the day with her curiosity and determination to be part of a team (a dog-sledding team, specifically).  Here, plot is more developed, but following a traditional arc that lets new readers enjoy the well-developed side characters and the humor. (Warning to rat lovers: rodents don’t fare well in this otherwise animal-loving story.)

Would either of these make it to my top 10 for Newbery? Probably….not.  But they are both so strong, and reach their intended audience so well, that they should provide stiff competition for the wider field.  It can be a challenge for adult readers to connect as strongly with these kinds of stories as they might with more plot-rich fare as THE REAL BOY or stylistically interesting TRUE BLUE SCOUTS.   But it’s not the richness of plot or style in itself that makes something distinguished…it just makes a story more appealing to seasoned readers.   Kurtz and Pennypacker demonstrate a knowledge of their audience that is distinguished, with vivid voices and a solid narrative footing for younger readers.


Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. Leonard Kim says:

    CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP does make my top 10. I think it’s an interesting case because one’s assessment of it does play into the whole sequel question. I missed the one previous to this (CLEMENTINE AND THE FAMILY MEETING) but had read all the others. While appreciating them and despite reading them to my young daughter, I never really “liked” the Clementine books. But with this one, while the immediate “shifts in character development” may be small, I would argue that considered alongside the earliest books, it now becomes apparent that the character arc is very long indeed. This was not only the first Clementine book I personally genuinely liked for myself, it made me reconsider the previous books, and that’s something that is something one hears said of Newbery-worthy sequels.

    THE ADVENTURES OF A SOUTH POLE PIG didn’t do much for me, I’m afraid, for precisely the reasons you give, Nina, for an adult reader. I didn’t find much fresh or original or complex or developed etc. etc. Even allowing for this age group, it seems to me there are lots of books out there “like this” and hence it is not “distinguished.”

  2. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I haven’t read the newest CLEMENTINE title, but reading SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS last year made me realize how underappreciated these books really are. As a committee member, one of the most valuable tools to counteract this adult-centered ennui is child feedback from the target audience as it helps you see the book through new eyes.

  3. I agree; “distinguished’ doesn’t have to mean “challenging” (and, in any case, challenging for whom?). I haven’t read SOUTH POLE PIG, but I thought SPRING TRIP was the Clementine series at its best. Clementine’s voice is back (I thought it slipped a bit in CLEMENTINE AND THE FAMILY MEETING), and short though it may be, it’s far from slight. Clementine makes decisions about her own values, independently of the adults around her, and takes action based on those decisions. For a chapter book audience, that’s weighty stuff.

  4. I felt the plotting in this Clementine was especially elegant. Always straightforward with the narrative, but leaving dangling threads as it went which cinched back together surprisingly at the end.

  5. I haven’t read the Clementine one, but I agree that overall this series has been far too underappreciated. They played a huge role in my daughter becoming the reader she is. Sadly (for me) she has moved on and wasn’t interested in this one so it was never around for me to pick up and read. I may need to just get it to read myself.

    I did read Tales of South Pole Pig and while TRUE BLUE SCOUTS won me over despite my resistance to animal stories, this one didn’t. It was sort of cute and I think it would make a good read aloud, but I was not impressed at all.

    • Doesn’t everyone buy the newest Clementine the moment it comes out and read it aloud to their husband for date night? (Annoyed looks from other diners in the restaurant are just a bonus.)

      • Love it, DaNae! And you’re making me jealous for a husband who would go along with that! :)

      • ‘Nae, there are 3 reasons why you reading to me is so wonderful: 1) Clementine is just plain fun; 2) listening to YOU read it makes it especially delightful, and 3) watching you read it to ME warms my heart and makes me fall in love with you all over. 😉

        Excuse the mushy love stuff in the middle of serious kid lit talk.

      • I read plenty of kids’ books to my husband, but I think he would draw a line at Clementine. :)

  6. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    (I love the Clementine Date Night–seems like an episode of SOME sitcom.)

    I’m not going to make a huge push for SOUTH POLE PIG but I still think there’s something in there that’s easy to gloss over. There is a very unique balance of absurdity and reality that I think eight year olds will really appreciate. Flora does and thinks things no pig could *conceivably* ever do; this is beyond White or King-Smith in that regard. Yet, she is *convincing*. There’s a wonderful moment in the hold of a ship where she and a cowardly cat team up to fight for their lives against a pack of rats. That Flora succeeds in doing something she never imagined she was capable of is due to her curiosity and observation (she has a bank of rat-fighting knowledge from watching a barnyard cat, and of getting-one’s-way from the farm horse) and her drive and temper. It leads her to invent her own style of rat-thrashing that readers will root for and somehow, oddly, connect with….and makes a neat parallel with Clementine’s noisy eating scene.

    • Nina, I do think you have a good point here about being able to gloss over. And I realize my own biases are at work with this one. I don’t like animal stories or the absurd, and the combination of the two send me over the edge. I also don’t have contact with the age group for this one in any way really. My students are older and my kids are older and younger. This would have been a DNF for me except I didn’t take a back up book that day. So I admit I haven’t done a reading of it with Newbery criteria in mind. When I wrote my quick GR review I did say that it was well written, so yes, I can see an argument for it. It would take a lot of convincing for me to want to support it though. I can say that a big problem I had with the book was I didn’t find Flora convincing at all, but that may be biases at work again. Also my inability to channel this age group. There’s a reason I don’t work with them. :)

  7. If I’d read this prior to voting for my November Nominations, I probably would’ve included Clementine, which was in my October nominations – I should give it a re-read before the next round.

    Clementine Date Night. Perfect!

  8. Clementine even looks older on the cover! Make me a little teary to see her grow up.

    • If that makes you sad you will bawl along with me when I found out there will only be one more Clementine. :( Then she will write a companion series about one of the boys from the books.

  9. 3 cheers for SOUTH POLE PIG. I read it on my own, loved it, and promptly read it to my three kids (who are smack in this target age group: 2 6yo’s and 1 8yo). They LOVED it. For just those reasons you mention, Nina–Flora’s character is stronger than Wilbur’s in many ways (not whiny, much more inventive and the right kind of silly), the plotting is well done (although the ship parts get a touch long), the twin themes of friendship and adventure are at just the right level for the middle elementary age group, …. That being said, I’m not sure it’s Newbery material–it’s so hard to compare works for this age group to the slightly more complex ones that usually get noticed. While I read lots of mg fiction, I read LOTS of intermediate chapter books, too, and Flora really shines in the midst of that pack.

    Haven’t read the latest Clementine–must remedy ASAP

  10. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m going to put a book out there for consideration on this thread: THE BOY ON THE PORCH by Sharon Creech. It’s a short book (160 pages) with short chapters that definitely works for the chapter book crowd on a readability level, but I’ve heard some people complain that since the adults are really the main characters and since the tone of the book is sort of GIVING TREE-ish that the “true” audience for the book is adults more than children. Thoughts?

    • My students have responded well to this book, but a friend at a Jr. High says there is word-of-mouth-wildfire for it at her school. So I would say the audience is older than a traditional chapter book and not really what second and third graders are generally drawn to.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        I definitely don’t see second and third graders selecting it themselves necessarily, but I can see this as a teacher read aloud or bedtime story. I see at as more of an “all ages” kind of book with that appeal even reaching down to the youngest readers (but not necessarily in the same way as CLEMENTINE or SOUTH POLE PIG).

    • Honestly, when I finished this one I spent a good deal of time wondering who the audience for it was. And I’m still not really sure, but I hear several reports that kids are responding well to it. I was really bothered by the actions, thoughts, and dialogue of the adults in the book when I first read it. That is what had me thinking, “What the heck is this even?” for most of the book. Maybe it is meant to be told in a way children THINK adults would respond, behave, and talk. I just don’t know. I’m still largely baffled by the intent, and was more than a little let down by the lack of pay-off in the end. I do think it is one of those books that could find an audience in any age group and will also find people, like me, who are baffled by the whole experiment. (Exactly like THE GIVING TREE.)

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